How to Bounce Back from Loss
This is a story for my newly widowed friends and for my newly retired friends. And this story is for me, to salve my soul, to give myself a pep talk as once again change comes into my life. Simply put, my youngest grandchild, Jude, has started all day kindergarten, so he no longer spends Mondays with me like he has for the last four years (and like the other grandkids did for nine years before that). Such a small change and yet my world is rocked! For thirteen years, my calendar read “Marmel School” on Mondays. Now Mondays are blank. I am tempted to write in, “No Jude. Sob. Sob. Sob.” I refrain. Surely, I can fill the empty slate with something happier.
When I have written about change in the past, there are two topics I have covered: empty nest syndrome and personal reinvention. For most, “empty nest syndrome” means that your kids have gone off to college. And since my kids are in their upper thirties to mid-forties, that was a long time ago for me. But the term continues to morph as I realize that even after all the little birdies have flown, the nest somehow continues its emptying. The kids get married and have children of their own – all the things they are supposed to do, all the things you pray for them to do – and yet, each of these steps removes them a bit more from their home of origin, a.k.a. from my nest. And now, look at this! The next generation of birdies has taken flight!
In the face of that terrible word, change, I have written about reinventing myself repeatedly. Ad nauseam! But beyond being sick of writing about it, I am sick of having to do it! However, since practice makes perfect, I am quite good at it, and I have some suggestions.
But first, to my newly widowed friends – and sadly, I have several – I apologize for my drama. I am a trying to fill Mondays, you are working on 24/7/365. And to my newly retired friends looking to replace forty hours of activity a week, I know my burden is small. All of you may have a tougher road, but the steps to creating a new life are the same for all of us.
Before getting to my suggestions, though, please pardon me as I pause to cry me a river.
And please give me another moment for a fond memory of being with Jude: One day, in the middle of playing some violent game he had made up, we were pretending to shoot each other repeatedly. Suddenly, he stopped shooting, threw his arms around me, and told me he loved me. (OMG! How do I live without that?)
Thank you for indulging me – twice – but beyond that, you have just learned the first step of personal reinvention. Validate the fact that you are grieving the loss of your old life. Allow yourself to cry. Remember the good times fondly. Allow yourself to cry some more.
I promise that at some point one of two things will happen: You will be sick of crying and stop, or someone who loves you will tell you it’s time to stop. Listen to your inner voice or your friend and move onto the next step.
Lucky for all of us, the next step is the last step and it is relatively easy once you become practiced: You have to find things to do.
If you think of this as a fun treasure hunt, you will find hints to the jackpot everywhere. Here are three hidden within casual conversation:
- One newly widowed friend said, “If someone asks me to go someplace, I always say yes.”
- Another newly widowed friend described her volunteer work at a food bank and said, “It saved my life.”
- A retired doctor friend said he spends lots of time putting dates on his calendar as he peruses community calendars for interesting events.
Let me decode this:
- Turn to friends for activities to fill your dance card and be open to activities you may not have tried in the past
- Look to volunteer work as a way to give and to receive. If you do not have a favorite non-profit, try VolunteerMatch.org.
- Your church or temple has an activity calendar – look at it! The same is true for the JCC and the YMCA! My doctor friend loves the arts, so he has lots of calendars to check: various theaters, the ballet, the symphony, etc.
Following my own advice, it took a week or two for me to line up a bunch of things. I now feel Oh. So. Much. Better. I have volunteered to work for a political cause that is meaningful to me. I have found events to attend at my local senior center. I have learned that my supplemental health care insurance pays for gym membership and have started yoga and Zumba classes. I signed up for four different classes (one day each) offered in the continuing education department of the University of Cincinnati. I found out when the local library branches have their adult book club meetings and attend – for the camaraderie – even if I have not read the book.
And on those days when I slip back into my misery and imagine kidnapping Jude from his kindergarten classroom, I have created a list of things to do that is more legal. The list reminds me of TV shows I might want to watch. It reminds me to make and freeze meals for myself and/or to make baked goods to keep in the freezer for family events. It suggests nearby venues for possible day trips.
I am getting VERY good at finding things to add to my list. Indeed, a friend said he is going call me Butter because I’m on a roll!
The lesson here is simple. There is no need to sob, sob, sob before life’s empty slate when it is so easy to fill it with meaningful activity. Amen.